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Baler the Movie: Que paso?

No te olvideras is the the whole message of historical -romances- in- war movies like Mark Meily's Baler (VIVA films). It seems that every decade there is a big budgeted Pinoy Spanish era movie. Ten years ago we had Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Rizal (GMA Films). So those who saw it then can't help but compare Baler with Rizal. But that is where the comparison ends. Rizal is a hagiography with certain liberties taken while Baler is a love story with extreme liberties taken. Now one wag who happens to be gay once said on ANC TV when asked which is the most notable film of the last 30 years "Rizal is the most beautiful ugly movie made!" (Bernal's Himala was the best movie ever) I'm sure this movie critic cum wag will say the same thing if not worse!

I saw Baler in the same Ayala cinema I saw Rizal ten years earlier. Worst of all since I bought my ticket quite late, I found myself in the same crummy seat from where I saw Rizal! Baler can be forgiven for taking extreme liberties since a romantic movie is really a flight into fantasy (or what could have been!). However I have no comment on the romance angle. After all who can argue about love? Now of course Meily has taken cue from the Siguion Reynas on making picture perfect landscape shots. I have no beef on that in Baler. But when Kastilaloys come into mind, I can't help but compare Baler's actors with the Spanish speaking Pinoy actors in Rizal. They were so believable to the extent I had deja vu of being in my Spanish 20 class when we were required to watch an Instituto Cervantes sponsored movie without subtitles. I wonder who were the dialogue coaches?

I can't say that with Baler. I had condiscipulos who always cut Español 3 y 20 classes and have all sorts of alibis (making nuestro Señora Profesora scream "urbanidad" two decades before Bayani made that a household word). However these cutting class alumnos could manage even to be even more believable when they had to recite Ultimo Adios as part of the requirements. So Señora Profesora can only exclaim "muy bien!". In Baler we can only exclaim Que barbaridad! Baron Geisler was atrocious!

On coming home, I checked out my dad's set of "Filipino Heritage" and in volume 8 one can read the real story of the Baler siege. In the real story as an example of psychological warfare, the Anne Curtis "Feliza" types were made by the Filipino army to pose 1) lasciviously and 2) to copulate in sight but out of range of the Spanish rifles! Of course this can't be made part of a rated G movie. So instead of something pornographic, we have a fiesta!

In some scenes the movie was rather faithful to historical accounts such as the Filipino army repelling the American landing party, the death of the priests, desertion, and the roasting of cute Bravo. Also the Lt Martin Cerezo's obstinacy in not believing that Spain had lost the war is true. However that two of the deserters made it to Filipino lines is an artistic licence. All three who tried to desert were executed and were buried in the churchyard. But that is where the faithfulness ends. Since the movie essentially says no te olvidare, we are amazed that it omits one important fact.

We Filipinos celebrate the Baler siege for only one reason. The way the Spanish soldiers held out for almost a year and the conduct of the Filipino army after they surrendered is something we will never see again. On June 30, 1899 President Emilio Aguinaldo decreed that the soldiers be considered friends not POWs and their courage be an example for all. Aguinaldo compared them to El Cid and Pelayo. They were honorable men. This is the reason why we celebrate June 30 as Dia de Amistad Filipinas y España notwithstanding Senator Ed Angara authoring the bill that made it so. This was left out in the movie!

Army brats like me would nitpick that when the Spanish commander surrendered to the Filipino commander honourably, the Filipino troops should have presented arms and not be at parade rest. The producers should have consulted an Army officer for the military courtesies. Also the Spanish flag flying in the belfry should have been taken down and the Filipino flag raised. This was completely omitted. Que horror! Next we see the Star Spangled Banner waving. Does Meily consider the Filipinos insurrectos still?

Liturgical experts would nitpick that the priest was wearing post-Vatican II vestments and not the ones used by the Frailes. But I think that is a wee getting overboard!

Aside from these lapses, I believe the movie was well done although I think Anne Curtis needs more acting exposure before tackling historical dramas like these. Jericho Rosales was OK although at the end tended to be a ham! Of the supporting cast, Leo Martinez was best. As for Joel Torre, I can't help but have flashbacks of Rizal and Oro Plata Mata! Philip Salvador was good at projecting hardened rage against the Kastila but the script was too stereotypical! Que lastima! Ryan Eigennmann played Martin Cerezo and he was good. Eigenmann if I'm not mistaken appeared in a bit role in Rizal as the Peninsulare UST alumno that knocked out Cesar Montano's Jose Rizal making Rizal's fat friend dub him as "mapuputing bangus".

Baler wants to inherit the mantle of Rizal so as the blurbs say much of the production budget went into production design, making accurate costumes (this I swear) and the church. They really built a complete church that looks like the original.

So just see Baler learn a bit of history and honour and support the Pinoy movie industry! Who knows we may see Las Ultimas Peliculas Filipina if we don't patronize our pelikula!

BTW, Viva Bravo! I think he should win Best Actor in the MMFF!


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